David Sanusi (pictured) and Yohan Ranaivo founded Madagascar Savors as roommates at UCI. Photo: Steve Zylius

Adding a Little Spice to Life

Vanilla ice cream and gourmet chocolate might soon carry a dash of Anteater DNA, thanks to students David Sanusi and Yohan Ranaivo.

Last summer, the pair founded Madagascar Savors, which imports vanilla, cocoa beans and other spices from the East African island nation for which their company is named.

Sanusi, an international studies major and philanthropic scholarship recipient, and Ranaivo, a senior in business economics, hatched their venture as roommates in Arroyo Vista’s Rosa Parks theme house.

Ranaivo, who hails from Madagascar, “opened up about his life and his family connections” to the island’s spice industry, in which his aunt is the nation’s second-largest producer of Malagasy vanilla and cocoa beans, Sanusi recalls.

After enrolling at UCI, Ranaivo says, he tried to form a spice import company but ran into problems because he’s not a U.S. citizen. So Madagascar Savors incorporated under Sanusi’s name.

The partnership enabled both men to fulfill cherished dreams. “My dad died of cancer when I was young, so finances were always rough,” Sanusi says of his South Los Angeles upbringing. “That financial insecurity has been the driving force behind my passion for entrepreneurship.”

To get Madagascar Savors underway, the spice guys took delivery jobs with Instacart to pay for their initial inventory. 

“My dad died of cancer when I was young, so finances were always rough. That financial insecurity has been the driving force behind my passion for entrepreneurship.”

As the pair began making sales, things took an unexpected turn. Through a networking event, Ranaivo met a Temecula marketing consultant with spice industry connections. He joined the team as a mentor and liaison to potential buyers. Soon after, one of the mentor’s former business associates said “he was interested in all the vanilla we could supply” for distribution to ice cream manufacturers and grocery stores, Sanusi says. The deal could be worth millions, he adds.

Working with Ranaivo’s aunt, the company also secured exclusive rights to sell her cocoa beans in North America.

Sanusi serves as Madagascar Savors’ chief cocoa ambassador, cold-calling U.S. candy manufacturers. “There’s a lot of untapped potential in America, and I see us being a very big player in the industry. Our goal for the next two to five years is to sell 75 tons of cocoa beans a month.”

In the meantime, Sanusi hopes to enroll in UCI’s Master of Innovation and Entrepreneurship program to help “build the relationships and knowledge necessary to grow and manage a global company. … UCI has taught me how to think globally and that everything in the world is interdependent.”

Sanusi’s pursuit of higher education has been aided by two philanthropic scholarships: the 2021 David Rosten International and Community Service Scholarship and the 2020 Beall Applied Innovation Creativity & Innovation Scholarship.

Sanusi is one of many UCI students grateful for such philanthropic support. The awards partly cover university expenses and enable recipients to take part in activities that enrich their college experience and increase their success after graduating. UCI offers nearly 1,000 scholarships funded by generous donors, giving students more than $4 million in academic aid.